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  • 6 Manufacturing “Must Haves” for Product Configurator Software

6 Manufacturing “Must Haves” for Product Configurator Software

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What is Product Configuration?

Product configurator software, usually included as part of Configure Price Quote (CPQ) software, allows companies to market, sell, and manufacture their products more effectively and efficiently. With the right manufacturing CPQ solution, product configurators transform traditional product inquiries into real-time, auto-generated estimates, product descriptions, bills of material, and even more.

If you’re a manufacturer, read on for the 6 “must-have” features for product configurator software:

 1. Visual Product Configuration

Visual product configuration is a powerful tool for salespeople, distributors, or customers to self-select options and view immediate results as they build out a product in 2D or 3D space. Modern product configurators allow dynamic updating of almost any element of a product and sale: Base options, add-ons, pricing, upgrades, and discounts.

While CPQ and visual product configurators are considered cutting-edge technology for most organizations, it’s quickly becoming a baseline expectation that manufacturers provide this level of customer experience.

2. Flexible Product Rules Engine

A rules engine is the most critical aspect of a product configurator because it defines all of the rules and conditions to allow proper configuration, pricing, and outputs of the order. CPQ rules engines can be tricky, though.

Many vendors offer product configurators as part of their CPQ solution, with most claiming to have rules engines driving the experience. On further inspection, these CPQ vendors are using basic filtering, bundling, and/or custom code and scripts to control the buying experience in the product configurator. That may not be enough to handle your complex product rules.

 When considering product configuration, pay close attention to the rules engine. Make sure it’s simple to administer, maintain, and will require little to no special training to use. Make your vendor show you, in detail, how they orchestrate their rules before buying so there are no messy surprises during implementation.  

3. Document Generation  

Your salespeople, partners, or customers spent time providing valuable data in a very controlled environment when using your product configurator. It would be foolish to ignore the rich data collected during configuration and fail to use it to expedite and improve downstream processes. You should be able to push product options, customizations, and other related info captured from the product configurator to your CRM, ERP, PLM, or other critical business systems.

But that isn’t all. Best-in-class CPQ solutions use the configured product rendering, including all of the selected options and customizations, to generate an actual CAD drawing that can be used to work out details with the customer or the engineering team until the order is final. This important CAD information can be sent to the production team to support manufacturing automation and quality assurance.

If the solution you choose can provide them, the production team also benefits from other auto-generated documents such as detailed pick lists, bills of manufacture (BOMs), cut sheets, shipping/packing lists, assembly instructions, blueprints, and product renderings.

4. Business Systems Integration

Your product configurator shouldn’t operate in a silo, even if it has the capability. Your CPQ solution should have the proper APIs and connectors to allow for easy mapping of data, real-time synchrony, and simplified integration with other custom systems, databases, and apps. Let’s talk about this from an I/O standpoint—the data flow going in and out of the product configurator.

 Here’s how you might bring in data to dynamically change the configuration for the person using it:

  • Product options or attributes from a PLM or other database that the rules engine uses to dynamically update options in the interface
  • Customer information from a CRM that can be inserted into dynamically generated PDFs

 And here’s how sending out data can dramatically improve the collaboration and cycle-time of the product life cycle. (Your solution needs to be able to connect with core systems like CRM/ERP/PLM.)

  • CRM—for proposal/quote data (SKUs, line-item data, renderings) and customer preferences for a personalized experience
  • ERP—as order information to generate POs, invoices, and packing/shipping lists
  • PLM—to query product designs in PLM to satisfy individual and customized customer requests for product variations

5. Sales Automation Processes

When we talk about sales automation and product configuration, we focus on improving the process in these key areas: Dynamic pricing, auto-generated proposals, and workflows.

To introduce sales automation, we assume the first three items of our “must have” list are already in place. You can’t control dynamic pricing, auto-generate proposals, or orchestrate these transactions without those core building blocks.

 Dynamic Pricing

  • Pricing updates on the fly as product selections are made
  • Pricing is controlled by a central set of pricing rules for maintainability

 Proposal Generation

  • Product configuration data flows through to auto-generate proposals in your CPQ/CRM system.
  • In a perfect world, all information from the transaction is sent as an order object to these other business systems and includes the order’s line-item details on product options, visual renderings, pricing, discounts, taxes, and more.

 Workflow

  • Workflows notify teams, approvers, and customers about what needs to happen during the product life cycle
  • Internal and external emails, approvals, and signatures for the estimating, discounting, and ordering phases of the life cycle
  • Handoffs of production information to the manufacturing team
  • Delivery of CAD drawing to sales and production teams as needed to close the deal or build out the product

6. Omnichannel/B2B2C Capabilities

What are omnichannel or BCB2C sales?

Omnichannel sales mean product sales through multiple audiences and channels. This could include internal sales teams, partners and distributors, and even direct-to-customer audiences.  Digital interactions and sales with these audiences can take place on an internal portal, extranet, or internet-facing websites.

 B2B2C sales have come to mean different things to different people. Some believe B2B2C refers to an eCommerce strategy where both B2B and B2C models can be employed to facilitate a complete product transaction. This definition is most akin to omnichannel sales.

Others define B2B2C as a business model where a company reaches the consumer market through another business, rather than directly.

How Do Product Configurators And CPQ Enable Omnichannel Or BCB2C Sales?

The best-in-class CPQ solutions have a single platform that can serve salespeople, distributors, partners, and direct customers independently, yet simultaneously. When these potentially diverse sets of experiences are controlled by a single product configurator, they can also be controlled by a core set of rules with some variations for each audience. This makes the solution infinitely more maintainable,  especially when spread across diverse audiences and endpoints.

To be available to outside sales channels, your product configurators must be able to be embedded on your internal or external websites. This allows every audience to use self-service and configure their product as needed and is a must-have for this direct model.

Companies that employ product configurators as part of a larger CPQ strategy realize increased profitability and increased customer satisfaction.

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Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ)